“Nana!” I pushed open the door and stepped onto the thick carpet. “Where are you?”
Nana’s text had said INVADERS. SOS. My attempted calls on the way over had been sent to voicemail.
There was silence, then a crash at the back of the house. I sprang into motion, but en route to the back door, I bumped into Nana. Her four-foot-eleven-inch frame was clad in a purple blouse and a long gray skirt, and she was pink-cheeked and panting.
“What’s going on?”
“Penny!” she whispered. “Come to the bathroom.”
Nana put a finger to her lips and beckoned me to follow her. At the top of the stairs, I was amazed to see Nana drop to all fours, then flatten herself against the floor and army-crawl into the bathroom.
“This is getting weird, Nana,” I said.
“Hurry up! I don’t want him to get away!”
Inside the bathroom, nothing seemed amiss. I tried to imagine what Nana meant by invaders. Spiders, maybe? I looked up, eyes drifting across the ceiling, scanning for anything that moved. There wasn’t so much as a cobweb. The bathtub, too, appeared devoid of water bugs and sewer-dwelling reptiles.
Nana tugged on my pant leg. When I glanced down, she pointed a finger toward the curtain-shrouded window. “In the tree,” she rasped.
I stepped toward the window. Was there a snake in the tree? A bear? A Martian? Bracing myself, I parted the curtains, then gasped.
In the tree sat a man with a saw.
He turned, and I gasped again.
“Nana!” I scolded. “That’s not an invader! That’s Ben Callahan!”
I flung open the window and looked into the blinking blue eyes of Nana’s neighbor. We’d gone on our third date last weekend, and I’d casually asked him if he’d trim some branches. I’d expected him to call first, but obviously hadn’t made that clear.
“Sorry if I scared anyone,” he said, an amused half-smile pulling at his lips.
“It was probably the saw,” I quipped. “Though I think the traditional murder weapon is an axe.”
“Considering what your Nana did to my ladder,” Ben said, “I’m glad there’s no axe on the premises. She’d probably have chopped down the tree.”
“Your ladder?” I looked quizzically at Nana.
“I knocked it down,” she said flatly, getting to her feet and joining me at the window. “With the push broom. I told you I didn’t want him to get away.”
I groaned. That must have been the crash I’d heard.
Ben looked sheepishly at me, and I had an inkling that he’d spent a lot of time with the principal as a kid, so practiced was his contrite expression. “When she didn’t answer the door,” he said, “I figured she wasn’t home, so I just started working.” He shrugged.
“A very rude assumption, young man. What gives you the right to hang out in my trees?” Nana looked at me. “I told you, the Hunters were much better neighbors. They kept to themselves.”
“He was doing you a favor, Nana. Ben’s a nice guy. Remember I told you how he helped me when I slipped on the ice?”
Nana didn’t look convinced, so I kept on.
“He’s really good with his hands, too,” I said. “You know, he can fix stuff. And he makes things. Like…” I slipped my hand into my pocket and produced my keys. “See this keychain?” I held up the wooden bird Ben had given me on our first date. “Ben made that.”
Nana sniffed, but I could tell she thought it was nice. Nana valued craftsmanship as much as she valued home security.
“Come on, Nana,” I said. “He goes to church with his parents every weekend. He has an awesome dog named Taco that he trained himself. He has adorable nephews, and he’s so good with them. And he shares a landscaping business with his brother. A family business, Nana! There’s no reason why you shouldn’t accept us — er, him.”
“Well,” Nana said to Ben. “I don’t see how you expect to get out of that tree if you’re just sitting there making goo-goo eyes at Penny. I guess you’d better just climb in. I’ll have some lemonade ready for you downstairs.” Her piece spoken, Nana sauntered out of the room.
Ben and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. I didn’t notice anything in particular about his eyes, but his ears did look a bit flushed. Nana had made him blush. I opened the window as wide as I could, and Ben handed me his saw, then slipped through the window himself, planting his work boots firmly on the tile.
“Obviously, I didn’t tell her you might stop by,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Obviously,” he echoed. “But it is nice to see you, Penny.” He placed his hand over mine where it held onto his saw. “And all that stuff you said—”
“I was rambling, I know.”
“Well, it’s just that it sounded like you were introducing Nana to your boyfriend, not a tree trimmer.”
“Oh yeah?” I met his gaze. “Well, the difference is, if you were my boyfriend, I’d call first, and we’d probably just come in the front door.”
Ben chuckled softly, then stepped in closer to me, pressing a soft, warm kiss to my cheek. “Next time,” he said gently, “let’s do it that way.”
I turned my face toward his, and our lips met. He pushed the saw aside and began threading his fingers through my hair. I wound my arms around his neck.
Downstairs, Nana’s shriek pierced the air. Now what?
Ben went instantly wide-eyed. “Oh no,” he said. “I told my brother he could start cleaning out the gutters.”
Clambering down the stairs, we held onto each other to keep from falling. We made it just in time to see Nana turn on the hose.
“On second thought,” said Ben. “Next time, you’re coming to my place.”